There are two other school board elections this year in Santa Clara. But Santa Clarans in Campbell Union elementary (CUSD) and high school districts (CUHSD) – south of Saratoga and west of Pruneridge – don’t get much attention. Most Santa Clara residents don’t know there’s a piece of Santa Clara in the Campbell Union districts. Even some candidates running for those boards don’t know it.
Since West-of-Pruneridge delivers more than $2 million in property tax revenue to Campbell Union districts, Santa Clarans in those districts want to be heard.
Despite having “Campbell” in their names, both districts reach into Los Gatos, San Jose, Saratoga and Santa Clara, in addition to Campbell. Most of the schools are in San Jose, and two are in Los Gatos and Saratoga. Combined, the districts serve about 15,000 students.
CUSD is one of the few districts offering full-day kindergarten. In 2013, CUSD’s API scores ranged from 748 (Campbell Middle) to 945 (Village Elementary), and CUHSD’s API scores ranged from 612 (Boynton Continuation) to 824 (Leigh).
The districts have three alternative schools: Boynton continuation high for at-risk students; parent participation Village School (modeled after SCUSD’s pioneering Washington Open); and Sherman Oaks dual-language immersion (English/Spanish) district-operated charter school.
The district’s Common Core implementation, Local Control Accountability and strategic plans are in place, and CUSD/CUHSD are moving beyond “STEM” to “STEAM” (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics).
Both boards have five members, elected at large. Four candidates are running for three open seats on each. In both races there are two incumbents and two new challengers – although one candidate, Stacey Brown, previously served two terms on the Cambrian elementary district board. Almost all of the candidates have long experience in the technology industry. All have children who attend or have graduated from Campbell Union schools, or they themselves are graduates.
Candidates: Elementary (CUSD)
Danielle Cohen (www.reelectdaniellecohen.com) has served 10 years on the CUSD board. An Oracle software engineer, Cohen is Santa Clara County School Board Association Treasurer, and a California School Board Association county delegate. This year Cohen was named a City of Campbell 2013 Woman of the Year. Cohen is the one Campbell candidate to be endorsed by an SCUSD Board Member, Albert Gonzalez.
Appointed incumbent Julie Constant (julieconstant.com) is the wife of former San Jose City Councilman Pete Constant and has significant support from San Jose city officials, and all the way up to County Supervisor Mike Wasserman.
Thomas Gemetti (www.electtomgemetti.com), an appointed incumbent, is a Santa Clara University graduate, and Brocade Communications VP and Controller. He’s worked for Ernst & Young, Ariba, and SAP and is active in Junior Achievement.
Challenger Campbell Parks and Recreation Commissioner Renee Small (www.ReneeSmall.com) is the outsider candidate in the race, and her endorsements come almost exclusively from Campbell city officials.
Candidates: High School (CUHSD)
Challenger Stacey Brown (www.staceybrown.org), is a software engineer who started two IT consulting and project management firms, and served two terms on the Cambrian school board. While at Cambrian, she helped develop its facilities master plan and worked to pass Measure I to re-open Cambrian’s Steindorf School.
Incumbent Matthew Dean (electmatthewdean.com), former Campbell Mayor and Council Member, has been on the CUHSD board eight years. He has experience serving on many county committees and task forces, and held management positions in several Silicon Valley tech companies.
A graduate of Campbell Union schools, attorney Richard Nguyen (www.ElectRichardNguyen.com), despite being a newcomer to county politics has garnered endorsements across the County, including that of Santa Clara City Council candidate Dominic Caserta.
Another Campbell Union graduate, appointed incumbent and former teacher Wendy Dillingham-Plew (www.electdillinghamplew.com), is a specialist in Career Technical Education (CTE) for the California Teacher’s Association. She helped the district get a $600,000 California Department of Education grant to expand the district’s Advanced Manufacturing and Engineering Pathway.
Bottom Line for Santa Clara Voters
For Santa Clarans in the Campbell districts, recognition for, and action on, their concerns is key.
Santa Clarans have more than once petitioned for a district boundary change to Santa Clara Unified, and are always turned down because West-of-Pruneridge delivers more tax revenue than it requires in student seats. The most recent appeal (2013) is working through the state Dept. of Education. SUHSD President Matthew Dean adamantly opposes boundary changes.
Like SCUSD, CUSD/CUHSD are Basic Aid districts. SCUSD won’t accept inter-district transfers because it gets little additional money, and Campbell districts won’t agree to boundary changes because they’d lose money. This impasse has soured Santa Clara tempers since the neighborhood’s schools – Parkway Elementary, Cypress Middle, Blackford High – closed decades ago.
Brown, Cohen and Nguyen are the most open to Santa Clarans’ concerns.
If elected, Brown wants to meet with SCUSD’s superintendent, request public board discussion of Santa Clarans’ concerns, and work together on alternatives. She’s already opened lines of communication by attending a South of Forest Neighborhood Ice Cream Social in September.
Cohen is also ready to meet with the neighborhood soon after the election. “We need to put the services where they are,” said Cohen. “Partnership, teamwork,and integration with the community also important,” she said, adding, “We want to collaborate with Santa Clara.”
Santa Clarans stress the issue isn’t academics – they readily acknowledge Campbell Union schools’ excellence. The issues are geography and community.
First, students’ commute to school is too dangerous for bike-riding – down San Tomas Expressway, across Stevens Creek, I-280 and sometimes I-880 – and there are no school buses or public transportation for high schoolers.
Second, teens from West-of-Pruneridge feel like outsiders in Santa Clara groups like Sister Cities, the Youth Commission, and at the Youth Activities Center. “We want our kids to feel they’re part of Santa Clara, they belong here,” said neighborhood resident Mike O’Halloran.